Elder Speak 2022: Artist Jan Cook Mack helps us see the unparalleled beauty all around us
If you carefully examine artwork depicting scenes from North Central Washington created by artist Jan Cook Mack, you realize she’s revealing elements of hidden beauty of our natural surroundings.
Few of us take the time to appreciate the beauty all around us — beauty that connects us to a state of well-being that is overwhelmed by our myriad technological tools and overly busy lives. In a culture devoted to the superficial, art reveals depth and meaningful insights.
Mack is one of four local luminaries participating in the Elder Speak program put on by the Ripple Foundation — a program that encourages them to explore deep wisdom they’ve acquired over the years and share that with the community. On Sept. 18, from 4-6 p.m. Mack, P’Squosa elder Randy Lewis and educators Bev and Ed Baugh will discuss what they’ve learned at a public event at Snowy Owl Theater at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort.
If you want first-hand experience with Mack’s work, visit Confluence Technology Center at Olds Station, Link Transit’s Columbia Station or see her exhibit “This is where I live” at the Moses Lake Museum. I’ve always been drawn to her oil paintings of river rocks that reveal the hidden beauty in our rivers. I love the fact that some of her work incorporates portraits of people who make this region what it is, such as Arnie and Michelle Pipkin, Brad Whiting of Mission Ridge Ski Resort, and others.
Mack prefers to create her paintings on site whenever possible so she can add a level of detail and perspective that gets lost in painting from a photograph. Her work reflects careful attention to detail and a sense of being fully present with the beauty that exists here. “Being there (and creating) is a whole different level of experience,” Mack said. “A whole lot of unconscious stuff comes from painting in the mountains,” she added.
Life has slowed down unexpectedly for Mack in the last few months. She had a stroke in April that severely limited the use of her dominant right hand. Undaunted, she started learning to create art with her left hand — a slow, painstaking process. She’s working with a therapist to regain as much use of her right hand as possible.
She takes this difficult circumstance with Stoic resilience and a sense of humor. “I often say to my (left) hand, ‘What good are you. I’ve had you for 72 years, and did you ever think you should learn to sign my name?,” she told me.
Her good friend Randy Lewis, who is recovering from a stroke a year or so ago, reminded her to be thankful for her hand. “And now, that poor hand that you’ve just discounted is saving you,” said Lewis with a chuckle.
Mack and Lewis share more than just a stroke. Lewis once owned a picture framing business in Seattle and has a keen eye for artistic presentation, and both of them are keen observers of the changing seasons of our region and of life. They are wonderful examples of slowing down and appreciating what life is giving to us. Their friendship and sense of camaraderie reveals how important relationships are in creating a meaningful life beyond possessions and achievements.
One of the paintings in the show Mack has in Moses Lake depicts a waterfall at Ancient Lakes, a place that has sacred significance to Lewis because of its connection to Native American tribes. Lewis praises that painting for how it depicts the motion of the water cascading down the basalt cliffs. That painting “changes the people who look at it,” he said.
Beyond her gifts as an artist, Mack is a devoted teacher/collaborator who delights in setting up an easel for artists she is teaching so they can paint together. Prior to the start of the Covid pandemic, she was working with two young proteges, a nine-year-old and an 11-year-old. It disappoints her that their work together was interrupted.
Classroom art projects typically are done on 81/2 by 11-inch paper, but that format is limiting. When Mack sets up a large canvas and the youngsters go to work amazing things happen.
“What they do is very beautiful. It’s fun to watch,” said Mack with a sense of wonder. “It’s so interesting how their work suddenly looks so professional,” she added.
Mack has learned that every person has a perspective. Their art reveals something of their own sense of being and their unique view of the world around them.
If we slow down and pay attention, as Jan Cook Mack so beautifully models for us, we will find extraordinary beauty not only in our surroundings but our fellow human beings, as well.